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Rider Strong: Meet the Actor Behind Shawn Hunter’s World

A wave of 90s nostalgia has been engulfing our culture over the past few years. Television show reboots and remastered video games have flooded the current market. Who doesn’t remember sitting in front of the television on Friday nights watching TGIF or feeling like you hit the jackpot whenever you were able to watch kids cable channels like Disney and Nickelodeon? For many in my generation, these are ingrained in our childhood memories. While there was a plethora of shows that defined this time period, few have lived up to the notoriety as Boy Meets World.

Boy Meets World let us follow the fictional lives of the Matthews brothers, Topanga, and Shawn over the course of their entire childhood. It was hard not to develop bonds with the characters as you watched them struggle and grow. Shawn Hunter, Cory’s best friend throughout the series, arguably developed more than any other character in the show. The teenage heartthrob with a bad boy image always seemed to find himself as the epicenter of the show’s deepest moments. Rider Strong, the actor who played Shawn, managed to bring this created character from the screen into our reality.

While fans of the show are extremely familiar with Shawn Hunters life, few know what it was like to play such a popular role at a young age. What would it be like growing up in the spotlight? How would it feel to spend your childhood in front of a camera playing someone else? What were things like behind the scenes of such an iconic show? Rider Strong gave us his take on these questions when we spoke with him about his career.

It may surprise fans today, but the hit show was not always as popular as it is today. Even though Boy Meets World is remembered above most sitcoms of the time, it didn’t have exceptional ratings when it was recorded.

I think the show was just ahead of its time. I think it was probably only like five or six years ahead of its time, but that made a big difference when it popped up on the Disney Channel in the early 2000s. At that point, it really struck a chord with a new generation. Of course, we had all of our fans the same age as us, but I really feel the show hit its stride with the next generation of people five to ten years younger than me. I think it is a tribute to Michael Jacobs, the creator of the show. He really put a lot of care and attention to the characters that I think a lot of other shows in the period didn’t invest in their characters. Most shows just had simple jokes, easy stereotypes, and things just to make people laugh. Then, it was over. Whereas, Boy Meets World aimed for something deeper, sadder, and weirder. That’s why it worked and lasted in the long run. It might not have been as successful in the short run, but in the long term I think that it really paid off. People seem to look back really fondly on the show.

Regardless of approval ratings, the show resonated with an entire generation of viewers. The audience empathized with the teenage drama, unique personalities, and many of life’s circumstances. It was no different for the shows cast members.

I ended up being a lot of Shawn… There was an episode where they decided to have Shawn go on a road trip because I had actually spent the entire summer driving around the country interviewing people and meeting people on the street. Shawn also became a poet because I was actually writing poetry of my own. Those are two very clear things, but I think I was just a very emotional and sensitive kid in general. Even though Shawn was supposed to be this bad boy, poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks, they decided to make him sensitive, which was very much me.

Shortly after the show was introduced, Rider found himself thrust into the spotlight. Like many young stars, he had no idea what he had gotten himself into. While Shawn might have been the cool kid that always knows what to say, Rider’s personality proved to be quite the contrast.

I think, at the time, being famous was very awkward. I was not prepared for what that meant. The fact that I am not acting anymore probably indicates that I would not have gotten into acting if I had waited until I was older, but I loved it when I was a teenager. Achieving the type of success that I did was not super comfortable for me, and I didn’t really enjoy it. I think that I enjoyed the actual acting, but the fame part and being assumed to be Shawn in the real world was not great for me. I don’t know if that was the biggest struggle in my life, but it is certainly one that I think people understand.

The fame may have been difficult for Rider to cope with, but Rider was right at home on set. Over the years, the cast members created bonds that were much like a family. To this day, Rider and Will Friedle remain extremely close friends. It is easy to see that Rider still looks fondly on the time he spent filming Boy Meets World.

We always had so much fun together. During the final season, Will and I actually made a documentary that takes place ten years after the show was over. We got everybody in the cast to do interviews as themselves as if they were ten years older. It took us two months and we didn’t tell what anyone else was doing. We ended up with a forty-five-minute short film that we played at the final wrap party for the seventh season. That was by far the most fun we had. Will had makeup done, so it looked like he had a combover, and we tried to drive onto the Disney lot. We told the security guards to not let us on and act as if they didn’t know who we were.

Fans of the show will know that the core of it centered around Cory and Topanga. The story is so memorable that the duo has now become internet memes for “relationship goals” to the younger generation. What most people don’t realize is that this theme almost never happened.

Danielle Fishel and the character Topanga were never part of the original show. The Cory and Topanga love story kind of became the defining characteristic, but the reality is that it was never part of the plan. In about the fifth episode there was this character of Topanga created and there was another actress to play the part. About halfway through the week they fired her and decided to cast this little, blonde girl that would have had around two lines in the episode. The second Danielle stepped into that role, it changed everything. It was great to see, and the whole future of the show just kind of fell into place. I guess it goes to show you that you never really quite know what a show is going to be. The best writers follow where the energy is. In this case, it was the Cory and Topanga love story.

Today, Rider only makes rare acting appearances on the screen. He recently reprised his role in Girl Meets World, but he is now spending more time following his new passion. Given the choice between acting and writing, it seems that he has finally found his niche.

Writing is, by far, the best. Writing film is frustrating because I spend a lot of time writing films that never get made or see the light of day. I recently wrote a play this past year that has really struck a chord with me, primarily because it is something that I can just go and do. I don’t need millions of dollars to put up a play. I just need some actors and a theatre. That has been really satisfying, so I think I am going to keep moving in that direction. I actually got my MSA in fiction writing, so I am probably going to go even further and start writing a novel. You get to control the means of production. Television and film require so much capital to initially fund it. Writing a play has been the most satisfying thing I have done in my life, even if nobody has seen it yet.

While it might be some time before we see Rider in a new acting role, fans in DFW can find him this weekend at Fan Expo Dallas 2019. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet Rider, as well as other Boy Meets Worldcast members. FXD19 will be held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Click here for more information and tickets to Fan Expo Dallas.

Still want to know more about Rider Strong? We have our full interview posted HERE. You can find out more about how he got his unique name, what the cast used to do between takes, and even what he thinks about a fan theory that revolves around Cory and Shawn having telepathic powers.